This being only my second post - I want to thank you for all the great instructional materials you have created. I think I own every DVD, book, etc. that you have published. In the Banjo/Banjo Camp forum there was a post by a woman asking the question: " Should I give up the banjo?". I've ask myself that so many times in the past I do empathize with her. I thought by buying as many books and DVDs that I could lay my hands on - that would somehow do the trick in terms of getting good on the Banjo. However, I could learn a song and get pretty fast at it but I couldn't do anything with it - like play with other people. Playing by rote memorization just didn't work. Then I ran across a regular weekly Jam in my area. This particular jam has been going every week for 30 years. Its in Encinitas, California. Its held in a Pizza Restaurant - the restaurant has changed ownership four times during that period but the jam never stopped. We call ourselves the Thursday Night Jammers and we celebrated the 30th anniversary and the 5000th time playing "Truck Driving Man" at Summergrass this year. It took me a while to get up the courage to join the Jam. However, playing along with your slow jam DVD gave me some encouragement. The great thing about the Thursday night jam is they are very welcoming to beginners. Its a big jam and most of the beginners sit in the back row. The really good players stand in front and lead the jam. They never start without the banjo player who leads the group or the bass player. This is a full speed jam so it is intimidating to novice players. However, they told me to just keep coming every week and I would get it. It took me a year and a half to be able to play in time and hear chord changes. Many times when they are doing a new song someone will hold up fingers to let you know what chord it is. I watched your learning by ear DVDs to see if I could figure out breaks - that helped. When they would play a song I would stop doing a roll or vamping and just try and find and pick out individual melody notes in time. Like you say in your play by ear DVD as long as you are in the right chord all the notes "fit". I would alternate playing rolls and picking out individual strings and then one night while they were playing a song I found my other fingers joining in while I was just picking individual notes with my thumb. That was so surprising because I didn't consciously tell my other fingers to join in. The night before last was another Eureka moment for me at the jam. They were playing a new song and after a few times around (they play most songs many, many times through to give everyone (its a large group) a chance to take a break) I found that I could play it and even take a break.
I'm in my third year of the Thursday night jam - but every night I attend I always have a great time and make a tiny bit more progress. I know you have been leading the charge on learning the banjo this way and through your many articles and DVDs you have given me lots of encouragement not to give up. For a number of reasons I don't have time to practice during the week other than attend this jam. Its kind of like learning by osmosis. Its painless and fun.